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The No True Christian Fallacy

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Every semester since I began teaching my skepticism course, I’ve offered the following assignment:

Choose one informal fallacy, explain it, give a relevant example and then discuss.

The entire course is based around conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. There’s no reason that a student shouldn’t be able to come up with a cromulent example. Depending on what school you subscribe to there is either one fallacy or there are over a hundred. The former is a remark made to me by a colleague who said that, really the only informal fallacy is the non-sequitur since the conclusion never follows from the premises. The latter is because you can find one fallacy with many different sub-fallacies underneath it’s umbrella. For example, an argument ad hominem (against the person rather than against the argument) is a large category with several smaller derivations. The “guilt by association” fallacy is really just an ad hominem slightly to the left of the person.

When teaching I don’t wear my atheism on my sleeve. I keep my personal beliefs, aside from being anti-conspiracy theory, out of the course where possible. Though I think my concentration on evidence based reasoning might lend itself to exposing my skepticism of religious belief, but I’ve also received comments from student evaluations wondering why I had to be so religious in class (seriously, I think it’s because I have a wide religious knowledge like most atheists in fact).

I have a student this semester we’ll call “George.” She has chosen for her example, the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and she wants to apply it to right wing Christianity. Her central claim is that people like Pat Robertson and the numerous people like him are not Christians because their rhetoric does not reflect True Christianity. George, whom I did not expect to take this line of thought, believed that when they say that people who are unlike them are guilty of the fallacy. Clearly her and I needed to sit down.

I explained very quickly that she was either “right with a ‘but'” or “wrong with an ‘if.'” (thank you Simpsons); because while she was correct in her estimation of their problem, she was wrong in that she’s committing the exact same fallacy as them. The look on her face forced the question out of me (it didn’t “beg the question” because that’s an entirely different thing), “are you a Christian?”

She said that she was, and a Catholic. Which then prompted her to explain that everyone who didn’t follow a specific set of Christian rules weren’t really Christians and these people she was planning on talking about qualified. I then pointed out that they would say the exact same thing about her, further they would probably call her a heretic and a polytheist because of the Catholic veneration of Saints and Mary. This elicited a laugh from her but my facial expression conveyed that I was being utterly serious.

The way the No True Scotsman works is that you see a member of a group doing something and the claim is that by very action they are performing, disqualifies them from being a member of that group. “No true Christian would ever say God hates fags.” “No true Muslim would ever commit an act of terrorism.” “No true Buddhist would ever condone genocide.”

Via, rationalwiki, Henry Drummond said, “No man can ever be opposed to Christianity, who knows what it really is.”

The problem is in the definition of group itself. Is there a distinct set of qualifications that make one a member and prevent them from joining. “No true bachelor is married,” is not an example of the fallacy because ontologically the definition requires that person to not be married. No true Christian denies the existence of Jesus, is again, not an example because the definition requires the individual to believe that Jesus existed. However, behaviors are not ontological qualifications. The assassin of Dr. Bernart Slepian was a Christian despite his willingness to murder a person in his own home, and despite the fact that the popular belief is that Jesus would not condone such an action. This is despite the fact that the assassin claimed to be a Christian.

What the fallacy amounts to is distancing an individual from a group because we identify ourselves as members of the group and wish to avoid being the target of a guilt by association fallacy. George may not want to be associated with Pat Robertson because of what he says, and Robertson would likely agree since she’s probably too tolerant and doesn’t think god sends Hurricanes against cities who once elected a lesbian. However, we can’t make the assumption that these people are lying. If they say they are Christians, we should assume they are Christians.

Which is why we have that pesky separation clause to begin with, because when we atheists ask “what religion?” we don’t mean the distinction between Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. as being the religion of the United States; well not just that. We also mean what Christianity? While Catholics and mainline Protestants share a lot in common they also share a number of distinct differences. Even within mainline Protestant Christianity there are many differences. Some Protestant churches have no problems with gay marriage and homosexuality; while others distinctly do. So which one are we picking? The unification of these different sects under the term “Christianity” didn’t really occur until the 70s. Before then you’d be hard pressed to get an Anglican, Episcopalian, Catholic, and Mormon to agree that they were all members of the same religion despite the fact that they all believe in this Jesus fellow.

George seemed genuinely confused as my observation as though she hadn’t ever considered it. Which, is likely the case. I explained that I was raised Catholic and was taught that the other Christianities weren’t the correct ones because their beliefs and practices were different. Likely, kids in other religions were taught the same thing about me. However the core membership qualification is what matters in this fallacy whether or not we like the person’s actions. If an atheist commits an act of terror, they are still an atheist, it’s just that they are a terrible person who coincidentally did the act. This especially applies to religiously motivated actions. If a terrorist says, I did this because of this and for this; we can’t say they didn’t.

 

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The September 23rd ridiculousness

September 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Did you know that the world was going to end on Friday the 23rd of September? It isn’t, but there enough people that think it will that garnered an article on Fox News “Science” page. My first question is: how many apocalypses have I lived through? Is it five, it feels like five. It’s been at least two in the last three years, and then there was the 2012 bullshit. I definitely remember one having to deal with a red heifer. It’s hard to keep track of all these things. This is only counting the ones that made the news. I’m sure the world is supposed to end every day according to someone.

The prophecy is the usual mess of cherry picking quotes from whatever text fits. In this case it’s Luke 21:25-26 and Revelation 21:1-2. The latter reads: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”

The break down of this is: John, the author of the Revelation, was clearly in the midst of a fever dream. Setting that aside, the interpretation has to with numerology and astrology. The backbone of every bronze age religion that is still kicking. The passage is cited because on September 23rd, the astrological sign Venus, will contain the sun, moon, as well as the planet Jupiter. Get it? The sun will be in the constellation (though not really because the sun would have to be a lot further away in order to be “in” the constellation) metaphorically “clothing” it. The constellation will be over the moon’s position, so there’s that. Also three planets and nine stars will be above it. Except that literally billions of stars are going to be both above and below the constellation. This interpretation just concentrates on the nine stars so there you go, really that’s all I could get out of the Revelation passages. Our first question is how did we arrive at the date?

Well remember the Eclipse? That was on August 21st, and September 23rd is 33 days from that. Jesus lived on Earth for 33 years, simple addition and boom! Apocalypse. Yes, like the ancient world that thought an eclipse was a portent of doom, we’ve apparently not advanced passed this superstition in the last couple millenia. Also the whole thing also revolves around the mysterious Earth shattering planetoid/planet/meteor Nibiru–which doesn’t exist, but if non-existence were a barrier to belief I wouldn’t need to write this blog.

This leaves us with the aforementioned Luke passages 21:25-26 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 26: Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.'”

How did we arrive here. Again refer back to the Eclipse on the 21st, the Hurricane hit Texas on the 25th and then the flooding on the 26th. Yeah, that’s it. Here we can see the obvious cherry picking because there’s nothing to indicate why it would be Luke and not any of the other three gospel writers…or perhaps any other book in the Bible, in Exodus we just miss the “eye for an eye” speech. Perhaps that’s why it gets tossed out.

This is obvious bullshit, but it shows the arbitrariness of numerology. Just pick one day, something significant, and then find everything that fits the pre-ordained conclusion. What’s more interesting is this article, in which the author tries to explain how “No True Christian” would believe this. The first thing he does is argue that there is no such thing as a Christian Numerologist, and then deftly explains why these bible code prophecies are prima facie false. On the latter part I agree, but on the former: afraid not buddy.

I was raised Catholic, which is one of the more scientifically literate versions of Christianity, and I was taught the numbers thing. I was taught that the numbers 3, 7, 8, 12, 40, and 1,000 were significant which is why the bible uses those numbers so often. Revelations uses 3 a significant number of times. This makes sense given the time it was written and the impact of Pythagorean philosophy on Greek culture. The “thousand” is an interesting concept because, again in ancient Greek, there are no numbers above a thousand. Anything beyond that was considered “innumerable” such as the number of atoms in the universe. This sometimes gets confused with “infinite” and I take umbrage with some of those interpretations (looking at you Aristotle).

Claiming that there are no Christian numerologists is a claim you can only make if you’re falling into the “Scotsman” fallacy and make the terms “Numerologist” and “Christian” mutually exclusive. As I just said in the previous example, and setting my religious education aside–you can’t make this claim. You can minimize the impact of numerology by saying it’s an old superstition, but that leads to a dark road where you have to begin admitting that prophecies based on numbers (the entire book of Revelation) are irrelevant. Though, to be fair, this too can be dismissed reasonably but that leads to the splitting of hairs so that only a certain type of belief is permissible. Which then gets us back into the differences of sects and what it means to be an actual Christian. We probably don’t want that…again.

*I neglected to link the actual prophecy page on purpose. It will become irrelevant in a few days anyway.

Defending a Religion

September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Again, I have to point out that Noah Ludgeons on this week’s Scathing Atheist put it much better than I could, when discussing the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar of the Rohingya Muslim minority. A group of people that are denied citizenship on the basis of them being the members of the wrong religion. That is to say, the victims are Muslim and the perpetrators are Buddhists. A couple of years ago, I related a story about a group of Buddhists who burned down a Muslim orphanage, this was back in 2013–also in Myanmar, and the problem has only continued.

The point being made in the diatribe was that because Buddhism is a religion, it’s just as bad as any other religion. The only reason we don’t hear about it is because they aren’t a majority religion in a majority of countries. Buddhism gets a good rap because the Dalai Lama seems like a decent person (then again so does Pope Francis), and we’re apparently still dealing with the leftover waves the Asian fascination that this country went through in the 70s. Again, though it’s a religion and every religion, once it gets the majority begins a campaign to slowly get rid of those pesky other modes of thought. We need look no further than the Mormon story. Oppressed, outlawed, and in some cases it was perfectly legal to hunt them: once they settled in Utah they began their own purity programs. Puritans driven out of England for their beliefs ended up driving their own dissenters out in the Colonies. Perhaps the Rohingya Muslims would be doing the same if they were in power, but we don’t need hypotheticals to wonder what Muslim majority countries do to apostates, heretics, and even those that believe in the wrong kind of Islam.

Among the theme of his diatribe though was a secondary point that he dwelled on but that I want to tackle a little more in depth: Why do atheists defend Buddhism?

I’ve known a few legitimate Buddhists. I say legitimate to differentiate from those people that have an unread copy of some pop-philosophy Buddhist book on their shelf which they are “totally going to get to someday.” The problem that I’ve had is that for some reason there is an assumption that Buddhists and Atheists are on the same side. A claim, which I absolutely do not understand. I’m an Atheist, I don’t accept unproven claims, and Buddhism is full of them. Sure, they have that whole non-violence thing going on, but so do most religions…and I’m not a pacifist. They still ask for money for the sole sake of existing, they have numerous supernatural claims, and most importantly: as is the case in every religion, they regard existence on this planet as a bad thing. They don’t have gods…except that they do, it’s just the gods aren’t like the other religions in that the deities aren’t at the top of the food chain, but they’re still gods.

I suppose one of the reasons is that Buddhism holds no power in this country and thus is shielded from the bad press in a way that the Christian theocratic evangelicals earn. They haven’t committed terrorism here so they don’t get the PR that Islam gets. As far as I know they have never been the target of conspiracy theories like those of the Jewish religion. Perhaps all of that is why the Buddhists think the Atheists are on the same side.

Atheists on the other hand have an annoying tendency to defend this religion and that’s the most infuriating point. They’ll talk about how the Buddha preaches love and how most Buddhists are peaceful regular people but the same can be said of literally all religions. Most religious people are not the Pat Robertsons of the world who think homosexuality causes hurricanes, yet we Atheists will paint Christianity with that brush but excuse Buddhism when it does nearly the same thing. Islam is more prominent for it’s treatment of women but Buddhism has the exact same problem with women. When I bring this up to other atheists I get push back, and sometimes not polite pushback either.

Sure, Buddhism, in many respects is not as bad as other religions. There’s not been any Buddhist Crusades, as long as we don’t count Mongolia in the 14th century. Even if we agree that putting the religions in a spectrum where one religion is clearly the best, it’s still a list of bad things to worse things. If we assume that Buddhism is the best of the bunch it’s still just the least bad of a bad thing. Why then are atheists defending this religion?

The only religions that do not have a problem with murder, sexism, homophobia, or various methods of thought control are the ones that no one practices anymore. Sure Wicca doesn’t have the history but if they had the control you’d start seeing in fighting amongst the various sects. You can find articles that talk about what a “real Wiccan” does and that’s just the taste because if you gave them the authority they’d make a meal out of it. All religions do this.

Perhaps Buddhism gets the pass it does because it’s so utterly foreign. In the US we have the saturation of the Abrahamic tradition which means that we’re used to it, while Buddhism is something we know from movies where a monk can punch through a door. We know them from the Wu-Tang Clan and are unfamiliar with the drawbacks of the religion and that they are literally like every other religion once it gets into power. A good explanation but once the historical facts are pointed out that gets waved away as being not representative of true Buddhism. Which, sure, but we don’t drop the same allowance on any other religion–as well we shouldn’t, it’s just the no true Scotsman fallacy. In fact, we go nuts when some Christian nut throws a bomb in a planned parenthood clinic and other Christians say, “that’s not a true Christian.”

Buddhism is just as bad as the other ones we shouldn’t be pretending otherwise, and most importantly we shouldn’t get offended when someone points out their problematic history as well. We’re not Buddhists, we’re atheists.

 

 

 

 

 

Is God? “Jesus BY A Preponderance of the Evidence” IV

September 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Is God what? You might be asking. Well me too, but that’s not our author’s point. The entire point is to shorten the question down to two words so that it seems so simple, but then to spend thirty pages trying to explain those two words in such a way that “is god?” seems like a deep and thoughtful question. “Is god?” makes about as much sense as asking “are peaches?” but because we’re dealing with the g-word people just assume there’s more to the story.

Which is something religion gets away with all of the time. Just put the phrase, “well from a theological perspective” in front of any stupid question and people will consider it to be meaningful. A person can justify just about any ridiculous behavior by claiming that the behavior is “part of their religion” and all of the sudden it’s treated with at least the appearance of respect…unless you’re a scientologist, everyone’s pretty on board with ridiculing them. Don’t want to speak to your wife for a week? Just say it’s part of the religion. Now, it’s somehow less bad.

What I realized during this month’s preparation work is that this is going to be awhile. The book itself is around 150 pages. I’m skipping the anecdotes, so I’ve got about 130 pages to read. We’ve already arrived at page 23, meaning we’re 1/6th of the way through on post 4. The problem though is that today’s post covers ONE page. That’s not a good sign, but there’s so much here that I can’t just move on.

The chapter begins discussing how “Is God?” is the most important question in our lives. I wonder if the author was tired of writing “does god exist?” and just shortened it out, because that’s the meaning of his two word question. Let’s ignore a continuing diatribe on how dumb this is, and get to the meaning of the assertion. Is it the most important question? There are two answers to my question. The first is “yes” if the answer to the question is “yes.” If we can prove god is real, then that necessitates that it becomes the most important question. This would then be followed by other questions such as “Is god Christian?” “Is god Muslim?” Hindu? etc. Then we would have to parse out the sects, schisms, and heresies; i.e. the history of the world up until recently. If the answer is “not yes” because nothing has been proven, we can just move on with our lives and get to more important things. Of course, for some people, who believe the answer is “yes” it’s important despite that it’s not an objectively proven thing.

Of course, there are three answers to the question he actually intends on asking which he addresses, “Agnosticism is as much an answer as atheism or a profound faith in a Creator Law-Giver God.”

I love the bias of that statement. You’re either in the “don’t-know camp” the “don’t believe camp” or the “totally awesome deep admission of the one true divine power for whom you have a deep and meaningful relationship with camp.” At this point, we get that the author believes in, not only god, but Christian God and Christian Jesus, yet the point of this book is to show the objective evidence for such a belief. As I said earlier, we’re 1/6th of the way through and we’ve only gotten a list of what constitutes that proof and not the proof itself. So we’re still waiting on the proof. To be fair, he’s right: those are the only possible answers to the question. Win for him I guess.

According to him the answer to the question is important because “Where we believe that rights and obligations are defined by man, or are ‘naturally endowed by our creator,’ critically affects the workings of any civilization.” My general problem with this kind of assertion is that it’s often a false dichotomy. On the one hand, yes a society will be influenced by its morals. That much is certainly true. On the other hand, if those rights are naturally endowed then we ought not need a religious authority figure to explain them to us. Since, as he’s claiming, they are natural they would not need to be taught. Yet, we do need to be taught them, so they cannot be naturally endowed.

This reminds me of Adam Smith, who wrote “Wealth of Nations” as an ethics book wherein the basic thesis is that everyone acting in their own self-interest will naturally produce the best kind of society. I’m being way too short with it, but his point is that we will make laws and morals that protect ourselves but will be generalizable to the rest of society treating everyone the same. We don’t need a creator to instill morals and rules, we all want laws protecting us against murder because we don’t want to be murdered. The real problem for our author is that when religious laws invoking creator gods are established we often have more killing in the name of society than we do otherwise. Saudi Arabia is one of the most religious countries on Earth, and they have the death penalty for a great many things in the name of “the Creator.” We also have lists of laws in the religious texts that have nothing to do with morality but somehow the deity thinks that they are super-important. Prohibitions on tattoos, what to eat, wear, who we can speak to, etc. About five of the ten commandments, these are not laws about morality but religious tribalism laws. Thanks, I’ll pass.

Finally, he ends with claiming that our answer to the above question is given in a cultural context which then becomes the cultural idiom. Yes, agree completely…maybe not with the idiom part. One of my favorite podcasts is “God Awful Movies” where the three hosts watch and then ridicule what are known as “Christian Movies” (and some other religious movies). A recurring problem with these movies is when they tip their hand too much and reveal the sham of their belief. When the anti-Christ character in the Apocalypse movie turns out to want world peace and to feed the hungry, that’s tipping the hand, because he’s the villain the good guys are going to stop. Here our author has tipped it as well. He’s admitted that there is no proof and that his belief is cultural. I’ve said it before: the only thing stopping an evangelical pastor Kentucky from being an Imam in Riyadh is the geography of their birth. They both want the same thing, almost eerily so, but they dislike each other because they don’t worship the same book. Born in the US means you are statistically a Christian, whether you keep that or not is one thing, but that’s the cultural importance.

Hopefully we’ll start getting to some evidence soon. It would be helpful that he actually not pretend to have written a book about evidence and actually had done it.

The Irony of the Protest

June 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Not that one. The gay pride parades in various cities over the last few weeks don’t gain much notice to me for the simple reason that I don’t like parades unless I’m in them. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of standing around and waiting.

No, I want to draw attention to the anti-Sharia demonstrations that happened. You know of which I speak, where a few dozen “Real ‘Mericans'” decided to protest against a thing that wasn’t happening, isn’t happening, and is nearly impossible to happen. I think the joke about these protests is that they might as well be protesting against term limits for unicorns.

Let’s play hypothetical here and figure out the steps it would take to get just one Sharia law in place. First you would have to have a city or municipality that has enough of a Muslim population in the US to create the demand for the law. Where is that place?

Our best bet would be Detroit. The city of…Robocop? Or is brotherly love? I forget which. In either case a quick search of the demographic breakdown of Detroit shows that Wayne County in Detroit, with an astonishingly high Jesus denying percentage of 3.5% of the population. That’s pretty small, the “nones” (my people I guess) make up a whopping 54% of the population. We’re more likely to get a statue of Lawrence Krauss in the middle of the county than we are just one Sharia Law on the books, but I suppose the entire area could be Gerrymandered like Austin Texas and maybe that would gain the Islamic population a whole seat on the city council.

Step 2: Now that we have our population we need to get our demand. So what law? Sharia law is just Islamic religious law, and like literally every other religion adherence to the law depends on two main things: the place where you were born and what family you were born into. If we even assume that there are no half-assed Muslims, i.e. the equivalent of those Catholics that only go to church on Christmas, Easter, and whatever family event is occurring (funerals and weddings), there’s still a Sunni/Shia divide that we’d have to assume away for the sake of our experiment. Most Iraqis, which are the sect that immigrated to Detroit in the 80s, are Shia so we’ll just run with that. Not that it really matters because I’m not to up to date on religious laws regarding particular sects of Islam. So let’s just run with a bill that forces women to wear the head scarf in public.

Step 3: Pass the bill. How on Earth could this be done? Unless the group took over every seat on the city council, then the mayor’s office, they would still end up fighting for the law in court. There’s no way that one of the numerous Christian nut jobs like Ken Ham, wouldn’t file a suit against the law before it was passed. There’s no way that the Freedom From religion Foundation or the ACLU wouldn’t file a suit before the law was passed. An executive order couldn’t get this one through.

However, since we’re in the imaginative dream land, let’s assume it was passed. Now it still has to contend with first amendment lawsuits. Now, this would be interesting because all of the Christians who argue for prayer in school love to point out that the “separation of church and state” isn’t in the Constitution so they would have to either admit that the Islamic head scarf law was fine because that’s what the people wanted or they would have to eat crow admitting that it was just a convenience argument for them. Nevertheless, we not only have two hundred years of court cases forming a firm foundation for the excise of religious laws, but also the guy who wrote the Amendment explaining the “separation of church and state” as what he meant. The law wouldn’t make it through the local court.

Unless they took over the local court, in which case it would still be fought at the state level, and there’s no way we can reasonably pretend (or unreasonably) as we have done thus far that the state of Michigan would get an Islamic majority or take over the court system.

Again, we’ve had to assume that this fictional Islamic majority would also want the law.

So what is the protest about? Stoking fear of something that cannot happen in order to make other people feel special. I’ve never read the Man of la Mancha, but I’m told that this is like that. Tilting at windmills, because it’s easy to fight an imaginary enemy than a real one.

I opened this post mentioning the pride parades for a reason. I wonder how many of the people who attended these Anti-Sharia law protests are also on board with LGBT equality. I’m guessing there’s very little overlap between the two on a Venn diagram. I wonder how many of those same people are in board with equal rights between the sexes and think that a woman should maintain autonomy over her own body. Do any of these anti-Sharia people think that there ought to be prayer in schools and that the government should be showing Christmas/Easter displays?

Don’t let them lie about it: this has nothing to do with freedom. The irony of the protests is that these people want the exact same thing that those who would like Sharia law want: religious theocracy. It’s just they want their religion to be the one in charge and not someone else’s. It’s why they get so upset if a school decides not to serve bacon during Ramadan but see absolutely nothing wrong with the same school serving fish on Fridays during Lent. They have more in common with ISIS than they would ever admit.

How to Convert an Atheist III

May 9, 2017 2 comments

Part III of our story…(Primary source here)

Part 3: Keeping the Dialog Open

Step 1: Walk the walk

Walk the walk is an interesting piece of advice, and it seems like it should have nothing to do with the current situation. The author recommends that Ned does not try and convert with words but to demonstrate with “spirit and power.” This an interesting intersection or words versus deeds, and there’s some conflict amongst the various sects of Christianity as to whether it is actually merely belief, or belief and actions, or actions. Pragmatically, this would be great advice at Part I step 1: Just be a good person and shut the hell up, they might come around. End of guide. It ends with this gem: “Some atheists are atheists because of their often-justified perception that Christians are hypocritical. But you know they’re not all that way. Prove it.”

You know like all of those anti-immigration, anti-helping the poor, Christians who think you need to believe in Jesus in order to be a good person but then have a political platform that states “what’s is mine is mine and no one else can have it.” Directly contradicting the actual words of the Bible and the Jesus character in it that they like so much. So don’t be a hypocrite, generally that’s good advice.

Step 2: Invite Your Friend to Come with You to Church

Yeah, thanks, no.

I can find other ways to be bored on Sunday…watching a Bills game for instance. Or listen to someone talk about a Bills game. I’d say sleeping, but I like doing that.

The advice goes on to say that Ned should invite the person to a non-service function, more of a social event than an actual mass. Even I go to these things, but isn’t that just being a nice person? I like doing X, you want to come to X? Personally I’d stay away from fund raisers, because that’s not going to help the atheist to the cause. Unless there’s beer and fried chicken, because then you actually get something out of it. The author stresses that Ned be clear to their friend that it is a religious function.

This is excellent behavior. When Passion of the Christ was in theaters, one of the mega-churches near Toledo roped a friend of mine into going. He was Pakistani and non-religious, but also very lonely. A very pretty girl chatted him up at the gym he went to and asked him to a movie. He, rightfully, thought that if it was not a date, then it was at least a friend type thing, but it wasn’t just the two of them: it was a church function. They sent people out to trick them into seeing the movie. You start out with a lie, or deception; it’s not going to end well. My friend thought the movie was “meh,” but was super pissed that he had been deceived.

Step 3: Be Patient

Don’t be pushy. Good advice.

Yet the general tone of the guide has changed here. The assumption is now that the religion has something the non-believer wants and just isn’t aware of. Look, this is America, and though we do not have an official religion and were not founded on religious principles of Christianity; the odds are 7/10 people you meet are Christian. This is a very religious country…at least in words. If an Atheist, who is statistically the child of a religious person, isn’t aware of Christianity there’s something very odd about that. Ned having a special club that he goes to once a week, might make his friend want to go, but other than the “I’m into Jesus” part what else is being offered  that the atheist doesn’t already know?

Step 4: Be Persistent

Ned is supposed to show how practical the religion is through his relationships with his Christian friends. What about when this backfires? I have relationships with all kinds of friends of various backgrounds. I can pal around with whoever I want: people that plant different crops in the same field, women that deign to have authority over a man, idolaters, I even met a Satanist. Like Machiavelli said, the hell bound are a lot more interesting.

Variety is the spice of life, as the adage goes, why on Earth would I only want to hang out with one kind of person?

Step 5 If you Want to Pray for Your Friend, Do it in Private

Sure, if reasoned debate doesn’t work, try hoping.

Ending a conversation wherein Ned has failed to convince the atheist with “I will pray for you,” the author remarks can be seen as rude. And yes, it certainly can. As often times it’s a condescending remark that implies the person’s soul is going to be eternally tortured and Ned hopes that it’s not. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “god bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s really a contextual thing, but it’s best, if you’re unsure to just keep it to yourself. The author gives the reasoning: “If God is going to answer your prayer and convert the atheist, then he would do so whether the atheist hears it or not. 

We kind of know the answer to this don’t we: He’s not or else he would have by now. Remember this is an all-powerful being that could very easily come on the television/internet/radio and just proclaim its existence. Instead, it decides to hide behind a 2000 year-ish old book, through several dead languages translated into several other languages in the hopes we decipher the clue like a shitty version of the Da Vinci Code. Maybe the Christian should remember that if god wanted to convert the atheists he could easily do so with an obvious sign and the attempting to convert people who are otherwise happy with their lives isn’t necessary. Just live and be happy. Stop worrying about what other people do or believe in as long as it harms no one.

As a summary though: this guide wasn’t as bad as I feared. Most of it was just talk, keep an open mind, and don’t be a dick about it. Unfortunately it runs under an assumption that people who aren’t Christians, don’t understand it. It’s endemic to the guide, because in their worldview, if you knew about it you would have to be one. That’s ultimately the problem with this guide.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Persuade An Atheist to Become a Christian II

May 2, 2017 5 comments

Continuing last week’s post. Here’s the primary source.

This is a weird instruction manual. It’s broken up into steps, that’s obvious, but it’s also broken up into parts. Yet there’s no real indication that each part/step should be building off of the previous. I’m not sure I should even call them “steps” but I did last week so I’m going to continue with that.

Part II: Talking About Your Faith

Step I: Tell Your Friend What Christianity Means to You

This one comes with a picture of the atheist wearing blue rectangular sunglasses. It’s just weird and I have no further comment on it. I just want to know if he’s supposed to be blind, and if so, is that metaphorical? The advice here is for Ned (remember that’s the name we’re using for the Christian), to just say that being Christian is making him happier. He knows people, there’s a community, etc. Just like how we’re all vegans because a recent convert explained how awesome it is that they don’t eat meat anymore, the cool people they meet at the co-op, and how paying three times as much for arugula is so totes awesome. This isn’t really advice for Ned because everyone hates that person who won’t shut the hell up about the new thing they do. Whether it’s the person who just quit drinking, the aforementioned vegan, or the douche in the soul patch that totally doesn’t get why people watch television. However there’s a further bullet point, “In general, it’s best to avoid discussing the concept of eternal punishment for non-Christians with an atheist, which will turn into a debate. If someone feels like you’re trying to “save” them, it can seem condescending and frustrating for your friend.”

Yeah best to avoid the bad parts, once they’re sucked in they can deal with all of that then. Look, the Hell thing is integral. The reason it starts the debate is because the atheist isn’t going to go along with the plan. Hell is a problem because depending on the type of Christian there are different reasons you get eternally tortured. Is it because you weren’t a good person? Maybe, but “good” is a vague concept, and if you didn’t say the right magic words it doesn’t matter how good you are. If you weren’t baptized, according to some versions, you go to hell no matter what you did in life. Then there’s the question of purpose: eternal torture = justice. How? There’s no possibility of parole, even if you fully recant all of your sins. Best to avoid the tricky subjects we wouldn’t want Ned to begin questioning his own religion.

Step II: Establish a common language

Another excellent point, and not just for this conversation. In any kind of debate it’s best to lay down what the words mean. I do this in my conspiracy course, and it’s especially important in religious conversations.

Step III: Don’t try to debate the specifics of the Bible

A discussion between a believer and a non-believer doesn’t need to be a debate about science, or creationism, or an intricate dissection of the creation of the world as discussed in Genesis. Discuss faith in terms of your church, writings of Early church and personal experience of it. What does it mean to you, to be a Christian? That’s got nothing to do with dinosaur bones and the age of the earth. Avoid these subjects. 

This guide is telling Ned to avoid the subject of talking about the specifics of the book which lay down the foundation for the entire religion. I’ll say this to Ned, it’s probably best you heed this advice but not for them, for you. Pew Research polls indicate time and time again, that atheists/non-believers know the most about the Bible coming in second only to Orthodox Jews. So Ned, don’t get into this fight it won’t work for you. You don’t want to find out that there is no Old Testament prophecy regarding Jesus, and the one everyone keeps referring to, within the context of it being given, has to do with an utterly different situation. You also don’t want to get into an argument that reveals an omniscient deity getting very little correct in his book and making some egregious errors (rabbits chewing their cud for instance). That’s before we even start on the contradictions, the weird laws, the horrible moral advice, treatment of women, and the rules that are laid out that the average evangelical wouldn’t want to follow anyway. Definitely avoid the book, at all cost.

Step IV: Try to understand the perspective of your friend

Good solid advice here. The author even assumes that not all atheists are mad at god, or were hurt by someone religious pushing them into non-belief. This is a huge step. Occasionally when someone finds out that I’m an Atheist, they’ll ask, “so what happened?” They expect that I have a dead relative or some kind of abuse, and I just say I had lots of questions and then there’s Tom Cruise (seriously). No tragedy pushed me into it but Christian media seems to think this is the only path for a believer to apostasy. The problem with the questions, I’ll explain, is that no one had answers other than “we don’t ask those types of questions.” Ned, if he’s coming at me, will have to answer those questions, and yes I’ll want empirical evidence as well.

Step V: Let your friend try to convert you

This is also good advice. See things from both sides, I think my side will always win because there’s no faith at work over here, but nevertheless I can turn each one of these examples on Ned. What’s so great about being an atheist? I get to do all the things you do, and I can sleep in on Sunday. I do all the holidays, but don’t have to go to Church for any of them. It’s fantastic. I get to read whatever book I want, and only like the books that mean something to me, without having any of them forced on me. It’s good stuff. My morality isn’t bogged down by Bronze age agricultural rules and tribal law, I can adapt to changing circumstances. If someone isn’t bothering me, I don’t have to think about it or condemn that person. Now, Ned, what have you got?